Tuesday, March 24, 2009

10 reasons the World Baseball Classic will work in the future

Okay, so it's over, and Japan is 2-time champion. And South Korea proved the Olympics wasn't a fluke. And the United States could have won if they had taken it seriously. And the Venezuelans were the most over achieving team of all time, even compared to the Dutch. The second Classic is in the books, and it was a good one. This video tells me all I need to know. That's great baseball, boys and girls.

So here is my list of 10 reasons why the World Baseball Classic will work in the future.

1. The Dutch: everyone loves Cinderella, and the Dutch team making the second round, by knocking off the Dominican Republic, is the single biggest memory most people will take from the Classic. And they did it the old-fashioned way, with pitching and defense. But I still maintain it wasn't a fluke. I picked them to beat the Dominicans and advance, not as an upset special, but because I believe they were that good. They are the best team in Europe, and showed they deserve to play with the big boys. If only they could hit.

2. The Italians: I took two things from the Italian performance. One - the fundamentals. These guys know how to play the game. It's not just swinging at the ball and throwing hard. Great defense. They know what they're doing out there. They can play the game. Second - the actual Italians played well, if not spectacularly. It was the hyphenateds, who were supposed to be the big dogs, who failed, and the real Italians stepped it up and played baseball. Maybe next time around they'll ask the other guys to stay home.

3. Europe: baseball used to be North America, the Caribbean basin, and Japan. Not anymore. Baseball might still take a backseat in Europe, but it's not a gimmick anymore. They play baseball in Europe. They play good baseball in Europe. And they can beat traditional baseball countries, at their own game, on their own ground. Ask the Canadians and the Dominicans. I don't think they'll take a European team lightly next time. Look for a major growth in the sport. After all, Europe already offers the second best thing in the world. Beer. Now they're adding baseball to the mix. Yeah, I'm in.

4. Cuba losing: they actually are human,and don't win every game. I don't have anything against the Cubans. They're still a great baseball country, and a good team. I think they have internal issues (defections, dissidence) that have affected the team. But what this proved is that there are now 4 spots available in the semi-finals. Not 3 spots and a automatic Cuban presence, like it used to be for the last 40 years. Bad for the Cubans, good for the sport.

5. United States losing: hey, I'm true blue, and a flag-waver, and all that good stuff. But we are the big dog, and everyone loves knocking the king off of his hill, at least metaphorically. It's still our national past time, but it's not our game exclusively anymore. We sent 'some' of the best we had to offer, and couldn't pull it off. Other teams can compete against us, and beat us. In today's world, taking the US down is still a major achievement for anyone. Doing it at our own game is doubly sweet.

6. South Korea/China: see #3 and replace Europe with South Korea. The Japanese have competition. Good competition. And nothing can be assumed anymore. Japan might have won the Classic, but it was an extra innings affair, that could have gone either way. And while China isn't a serious threat to anyone right now, they did win a game, and with over 1 billion people to pick from, in 8 years, China will be competitive. Baseball in Asia just got a lot better.

7. The timing: as much as everyone is complaining about it, the timing is perfect. Baseball is still mostly played in the Northern hemisphere (with regards to South Africa and Australia) right now, and that means the classic is in the spring, after long winters in many of the countries. The same reason Americans look forward to spring training is the same reason the Classic needs to be in the spring. And if you want to get people around the world interested in the game (i.e., buying merchandise, MLB.tv, planning vacations to watch games; yeah, you got it figured out, Bud), then the Classic has to be in the spring to generate excitement for the upcoming seasons in the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mexico and Europe. Do it the end of the World Series, and people will ignore baseball until spring. Do it during the spring, and the excitement carries over.

8. The fans: American fans didn't seem to care all that much, or so we're told. But I disagree. I think a lot of fans did. But here's a point to remember. It's the 'World' Baseball Classic. There were teams from 16 countries playing, and the next time around, it will be 24. The fans in 6%, or 4%, of the countries involved are only a small portion of those watching. I know lots of people throughout Europe and Asia who stayed up all night watching games, and rooting for their teams. Just because American fans are apathetic to the Classic, doesn't mean the rest of the world is. Somewhere I have the numbers. I'll post on that later.

9. The timing: every 4 years, just after the Olympics is perfect. Baseball is likely not going to make it back into the Olympics, and will lose it's 'highlighted' world stage. I say highlighted, because the World Cup has been going on for years, but is still essentially an amateur competition. The Classic offers the best competing against the best. More often than 4 years, and it will be overexposed. Less often than 4 years, and people will lose interest. The reason the Olympics work is because of the 4-year scale. It will work for the Classic also.

10. Major league baseball: just because the American fans don't care, and MLB leadership is just using this as a cash cow to publicize the new Major League baseball channel doesn't mean they don't have a clue. Bud isn't doing his part to promote the game internationally, but someone is. Bud would have never come up with this idea, but someone in the front office is getting this done. Bud won't last forever, and if the people running the Classic get a voice with the new administration, things will be different. And better.

If anyone has anything they'd like to add to this about why the Classic "will" work, please leave a comment.

Why it "won't" work is coming soon.

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